Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bario Ramen: Muscle car of the Ramen world


Today, I ordered from perhaps the most controversial stall in Ramen Champion -Bario. While its hard-hitting, overpowering style of Ramen has its detractors, it also has what is most commonly-described as a "cult-like" following, of which I can proudly pledge my allegiance to. For a period of time, it was the one dish that I constantly obsessed over on a near-hourly basis (I kid you not), one that I unfailingly dined at at least weekly before I'd discovered other Ramen shops.

Upon patronage of the stall, one is greeted by very enthusiastic, loud and somehow Japanese phrases that my own very limited understanding of the language is unable to comprehend. These are often uttered by the late-twenties-early-thirties-ish, long-dyed hair guy in the black t-shirt bearing Bario's unmistakable logo, who has been serving Bario ramen for as long as I can remember (I checked with him; he's been working here for 2 years, which is as old as Ramen Champion itself). I share a special patron's relationship with him, in that he gives me a knowing nod and smile of recognition whenever he sees me ordering ramen. It's been so long since I last had Bario in fact, that I do not recognise any of the other cooks but him. The near-virgin experience of tasting something long-uneaten was thus the excuse I gave myself to dine here again, although honestly, nothing can quite replicate one's first time eating Bario.
That's him...I think

Taste, quality and presentation: 

The presentation of the bowl of ramen is nothing fanciful, just a whole lot of noodles covered by a mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage, complete with an egg and 3 slices of chashu, all swimming in a whitish-brown broth which is filled almost to the point of overflowing. In fact, I'm willing to wager that not one person can carry this monstrosity back to his table without spilling a bit of broth on his tray. There're bits of fats floating within the soup, which absorb and add a nice fragrance to it. The bowl itself is almost scaldingly-hot to the touch. Even from simply looking at it, you can tell with confidence that this will be good, and certainly unforgettable.

My first sip of the broth, as always, brought me into a different place altogether, its taste being as rich as ever. From one mouthful alone, it's pretty hard for the first-timer to ascertain the individual components of the soup (pork base, Bario's special soy sauce, garlic, pepper, and the incredible bits of fat). But there's no need for in-depth analysis here; Bario's soup just blows you away completely and is unlike anything I've ever had, leaving you utterly speechless while your tongue scrambles to comprehend the sheer awesomeness of it all. To say it's merely intense would do it no justice at all. That first sip of Bario's soup has a good case to be one of the highlights of my, and anybody else's, life.

It's huge!!!

The beansprouts and cabbage piled high on top of the noodles may look intimidating, but they conceal the true monster lurking underneath -the enormous pile of thick, flat, chewy noodles. They’re thoroughly infused with the soup's flavour and have a nice bite to them, but with their sheer quantity and their chewy texture, your jaws are going to ache from all the effort of biting again and again and again. And when I say Bario has a lot of noodles, I mean it in the most extreme sense of the phrase. Every time I have the audacity to think to myself, "this must be it, there can't possibly be anymore", I force another spoonful down my throat with what may well be my dying breath, only to discover yet another mount of noodles seemingly materialising magically below, awaiting me. I'm going to be honest about this: Bario can get rather sickening at times, in the way eating too much rich food makes you feel like puking. This is especially so towards the end when you just about cannot take it anymore. And right when you're finally done with the noodles, you realise that you still need to down the rest of the soup to consider yourself having conquered Bario.

One complaint of mine would be about the flavoured egg, which should have had a molten lavaish centre, but was instead nearly hard-boiled. Greatness comes from paying attention to the small details, and when these are neglected, you can clearly tell that a stall's quality control is suffering. Indeed, Bario wasn't as good as I remembered it to be. Despite this, it remains one of the best bowls of noodles you'll ever find, hands-down, and one that any food lover must try in his lifetime.

Looks kinda gross, mainly cause of Arthur's lousy camera phone
Since Mark has taken the liberty of expressing his incredible love for Bario (which I no doubt share) and filled in the many interesting trivialities, I'll get straight to the point: Bario serves a pleasantly unconventional bowl of Ramen.

Assuming you start with the soup-which is the proper way to start a bowl of Ramen-the first thing you'll notice besides it's monstrous size will be the bits of fats floating around the soup's top layer. The reason for this is clear when you watch how they prepare the Ramen. Pure Collagen is directly placed in the bowl in the form of extracted pork fats even before the soup is poured in. This gives two results. The good: a very pleasing first spoonful of the broth as the collagen floats to the top. The bad: The broth's strength begins to diminish as you slowly gulp down spoon after spoon as the pure fats which carries a good portion of it's taste is slowly used up. A good trick to avoid the latter issue is to scoop down deep into the bowl in order to achieve a more consistent balance of the pure fats in each spoonful.

As Mark mentioned, the soup includes soya sauce; and the way they handled this component is remarkable. Generally, introducing soya sauce to a dish holds the risk of it becoming the overwhelming taste. The key here is balance and you'll be pleased to know that Bario does this well. The quantity and type of soya sauce used is expertly controlled in the mix of the broth and compliments the strong taste of the soup with an extra, salty-sweet punch and a pleasant aroma that effectively masks the smell of pork which prevails in many Ramen. The overall result is a less creamy and more viscous broth which tastes uniquely delicious and just as strong, if not more powerful than good traditional broths.

very good broth
The daringly unorthodox design of Bario's Ramen is also evident in it's noodles. They are heartily thick, providing a resilient and chewy texture that blends well into the soup and is particularly good at absorbing the soya-sauce component, giving it a good flavour even on its own. The beansprouts that top the Ramen is also a good addition. Their refreshing crunch and natural juices add a good contrast to the strong flavour of the broth, toning down the powerful flavour of the broth with a little bit of classiness.
The chashu continues the theme of power. Thickly cut pork bellies with loads of fats and a subtly smoky flavour stands out as another unique convention unseen in most other Ramen. That being said, the chashu does have inconsistencies at times.  The egg, as Mark mentioned, is not up to par. 

First timers should note that Bario may take some getting used to. The first time I had it was a strange experience for me. It was not love at first sight, but after giving it another chance, I learned to appreciate and fully enjoy its taste. 


This ramen is reasonably-priced, well within the average range of ramen prices here. Taking its massive proportions into account, it's a dish that should fill an average person up for at least a meal and a half, if not two (often-times, I've skipped dinner after having Bario for lunch). Yes, it isn't anywhere near the price of a bowl of lor mee which serves a similar style of noodles, but then again, it IS Japanese food, which is inherently pricier than local food (and I'm sure that if lor mee was sold in Japan, it'd be more expensive than ramen there). Also, let's take into account the basic fact that your average bowl of lor mee wasn't lovingly boiled for 12 hours before you eat it. All in all, a bowl of noodles that's extremely worth its money.

While Bario's standard has dipped ever so slightly over the years, and may make some people sick after eating it, it's basically a great dish, and one that we at FreshFFM highly recommend to anyone looking for something different from ordinary Ramen. Its central location makes it a place that's definitely worth travelling to, especially since it isn't far from anywhere in Singapore. If you're weak of heart (or of stomach), you shouldn't attempt to finish this even if it makes you feel slightly emasculated, as it's basically clogged arteries, high cholesterol, and a heart attack all packaged within a bowl. It's extremely economical for Ramen too, given its quantity and taste. It remains one of our favourite Ramen stalls, one that we'd patronize loyally for years to come.

The Ramen should sit well with most groups. Recommended for everyone, be it families, friends, foodies or even critical Ramen enthusiasts. 

Have you eaten here before? What was your experience like? We're interested -do share with us in the comments below!

Quality, Taste and Presentation (80%)
An especially successful innovative take on the traditional bowl of Ramen.
Value (20%)
Very good price for large portion and good taste
Ambience & others (0%)
Check Ramen Champion main page on the blog for ambience
Fantastic Ramen. Definitely worth trying
PS: we'll add more pictures when we visit again

#04-10, Bugis+, 201 Victoria Street

Operating Hours:
11:30-22:30 daily

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